Such is the air of toxicity around Arsenal that it is uncertain how much a draw at home to Manchester City will draw the poison. A defeat, though, which would have been a fifth in six Premier League matches, and with the club suffocating in protests, fights, incidents outside the ground and this uncomfortable sense of drift, fear and paralysis would have felt unbearable.
At one point Arsene Wenger even appeared to be trying to control his breathing, puffing out his cheeks, as Mesut Ozil lost the ball in the build-up to City’s second goal. When Sergio Aguero’s shot hit the net Wenger slammed his water bottle down in despair.
Anxiety is how Wenger himself put it, and it all seems so desperately over-wrought. Arsenal just want the demons to go away and yet they are preyed upon by their own vulnerabilities, and as well as they did to claw back City, twice, they are left with a sense that they did not do enough to take the points in what Wenger termed a “must-win”.
And they could easily have lost in injury-time. With Wenger having again proclaimed himself an advocate of video refereeing in the run-up to this vital fixture, he had cause to be thankful that it is not in force, not yet, in the Premier League, as a Nacho Monreal hand-ball went unpunished.
But then it was weirdly flawed but entertaining game. Pep Guardiola played Jesus Navas at right-back and hooked Raheem Sterling at half-time for tactical reasons. And there is no point in trying to defend those who cannot defend. Both teams were rank at the back while City did not do enough to win, either. This was a missed chance for them also as they head to leaders Chelsea for a midweek encounter. Maybe they could have been back in the title race.
The only glimmer for Arsenal is that, for once, they did not fold when Laurent Koscielny went off – the sight of him succumbing to an Achilles injury and Gabriel coming on will have sent a shudder through their supporters given what happened against Bayern Munich – and they kept trying.
With their effort, their desire to play for Wenger, having been questioned in the recent defeat against West Bromwich Albion, there was no evidence of that here although Alexis Sanchez’s body language is simply horrible. He could not make it clearer if he wore a sign saying: ‘this team is not good enough for me’.
But in reality this was a “must-not-lose” game rather than a “must-win” game for Arsenal although the fact is that after 28 league games they have never been in such a poor position in all of Wenger’s 21 seasons at the club. They are in sixth, seven points off fourth-placed City – albeit with a game in hand – and the only comparable position was in 2013 when they were fifth, five points off fourth before clawing that back.
No-one would bank on them doing that again and this season feels like saving face and getting the campaign over, maybe pinning hopes on winning the FA Cup Final. To reach that final they will have to overcome City and it was telling that, afterwards, Guardiola was the far less satisfied manager.
“Wow,” he said when asked his reaction to the penalty incident, and replays did appear to show that Monreal was fortunate when he pushed his arm out, with the ball brushing against it, as he tried to deal with Navas’s cross. Guardiola claimed that Monreal had told him that he had, indeed, handled. Wenger? He said he did not see it. At least some things never change.
Wenger will have wished he never saw City’s first goal (or, of course, their second) either. What a calamity. It came as Shkodran Mustafi intercepted but could only find Kevin De Bruyne whose perceptive first-time pass took advantage of Hector Bellerin’s poor positioning as the full-back allowed Leroy Sane to cut inside. Once clear, Sane was never going to be caught and he rounded David Ospina to slide the ball home.
City were rampant and almost doubled their lead when De Bruyne’s side-footed snap-shot from the area’s edge beat Ospina but cannoned back off the post with the goalkeeper doing well to parry David Silva’s follow-up.
Had City scored there then it could have been a humiliating result for Arsenal but, gradually, they worked their way back into it and were level when Nicolas Otamendi – who was poor – headed the ball weakly only for Mustafi to send it back. Gael Clichy was slow to react, playing Theo Walcott onside, and the Arsenal forward was sharp enough to quickly steer the ball past goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
When City scored again – just 131 seconds later - it summed up Arsenal’s woeful vulnerability as Ozil lost the ball, made no effort to retrieve it and eventually Koscielny was forced into a last-ditch tackle to deny De Bruyne. The ball ran to Silva who eyed Aguero, who had cleverly pulled wide to the right, and the striker’s low shot ran across Ospina and into the far corner. Ospina could have done better. Arsenal could have done better.
It seemed, again, that would be the story: Arsenal’s vulnerability, their soft underbelly. Instead it was City who suffered as they were undone from a corner. It was zonal marking at its worst as they had plenty of defenders but not one tracked Mustafi who had a run and leap and easily beat Otamendi to turn a header beyond Caballero’s left hand.
Chances, mainly half-chances, came and went, although Ospina did well to push out Fernandinho’s half-volley, and it was City who proved the most threatening especially in injury-time with their penalty claim. It ended a draw, though, and there was that overwhelming sense of relief. And regret.
Full time: Arsenal 2 Man City 2
I notice after the match that Pep goes up to Monreal. Is he telling him he got away with the handball?! What did you want him to do, own up? It's not snooker, golf, etc. These are footballers!
City want a pen for handball, Monreal the accused. Not given. Navas crossed, it spun up off his boot, Monreal seemed to lose his bearings, flapped at the ball and that certainly looked like a handball. Anyway. Not given.
Arsenal have a freekick. Ozil. Down the right wing. Cleared with some ease. Wenger losing his mind on the touchline.
Navas tries one of his shots. Obviously, it goes nowhere near the goal. Must be 100 league games since he scored. Three minutes of added time.
Silva off, Zabaleta on. Goes to right back. City have it down the right, crossed in, Aguero tries the volley. Deflected for a corner. Cleared.
Ozil slides it down the right to Bellerin, there is an overload, and then it's fed into Iwobi... shoots... over.
Promising moment for Arsenal ended by a sledgehammer touch from Bellerin.
Certainly been an even game.
City coming on strong here. KDB breaks, out to Navas, cannot deliver a killer cross. But the move stays alive, and Silva! Rasps a shot wide! Ooh that was close.
It's been an odd game, and oddly flat since the fourth goal. It's a nice sunny afternoon. Iwobi, perhaps with more at stake than some others, has injected a bit of life down the right for Arsenal.
Iwobi on for Welbeck. De Bruyne breaks, Coquelin fouls him, cynically. De Bruyne demands, with full mime, that Coquelin gets his second yellow card. I don't think anyone emerges from that with much credit.
Ball through... Ozil in a race with Caballero. "He looks at Caballero and thinks, ooh, I am not sure about that," says Neville. He is implying, I think, that Mesut did not commit 100% to getting the ball.
Navas chips one through, Aguero onto it but keeper off his line quickly.
With Yaya in the middle, City are forced to / feel comfortable playing at a lower tempo, and are controlling it, without really creating all that much. You can hear a pin drop in the stadium.
Giroud's come on for Walcott. City are enjoying a decent spell here.
Arsenal fans fighting
****** NOTE BAD LANGUAGE THROUGHOUT *******
****** NOTE BAD LANGUAGE THROUGHOUT *******
Key part of Arsenal's struggles is that Bellerin is half the player he was before ankle knock. Sane destroying him today.— Julian Bennetts (@julian_bennetts) April 2, 2017
And here is the boy Sane, allowed to wriggle free and shoot wide.
Absolutely baffling from Walcott as he runs out of his own area and tries a backheel. Cross Navas, header Aguero, good save Ospina.
Fernandinho has a shot. Ospina has a whack in the tummy when he gathers a ball. Pass played to Welbeck, whose marker Stones is, oof, 15 feets away. Luckily for him, Danny cannot gather.
Shkodran Mustafi yellow for a foul on Leroy Sane.
Gary Neville on Kompany, who is warming up: "He must be thinking, if I could get fit. I MUST be able to do better than this."
I think a lot of us probably think that, watching Navas play defence for a hundred grand a week.
Xhaka flies into a tackle, lucky for him that he doesn't make any contact because that was another wild one and he's already been booked.
Arsenal have their tails up. Both sides look so much more comfortable. Navas is in acres of space down the right. No Arsenal man bothers to go and meet him. Then again, no City man bothers to get in the box. Cross comes to nothing. It sort of beggars belief that these are two of the best six sides in the country. Huge, gaping, yawning flaws in both outfits.
Arsenal fans are cheering on their team! Now I have seen it all.
2-2. Zonal marking at its worst.— Jason Burt (@JBurtTelegraph) April 2, 2017
GOAL! Arsenal 2 Man City 2
And it comes from a corner. Decent delivery, Mustafi rises magnificently and heads it past Caballero, who had no chance.
Should have been three for City! Break down the right, cross comes in from Navas and Aguero meets it. Plants his header wide.
Incidentally, Toure it was who gave the ball away, leading to the Sanchez break and the Fernandinho foul. An even start to the second half.
Fernandinho clips the heels of Sanchez from behind and accepts his booking in jolly mood.
Koscielny off for Gabriel. And here's the second half.
Yaya on for Raheem. Sterling didn't do a great deal. Yaya might reasonably be supposed to help out a bit in midfield.
Arsenal fan shouts: "Sit down Guardiola - what the .... have you won?" Not a hugely sustainable argument that one.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) April 2, 2017
What an odd match this is. Some fantastic bits from Sane, De Bruyne, Silva, Fernandinho and Sanchez, almost everyone else shambolic.— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 2, 2017
Half time: Arsenal 1 Man City 2
The flaws of both sides plain to see. It's quite surprising that you can spend this much money on footballers and still have something with such gaping weaknesses. Both sides, that is.
Walcott with some nice work. Sanchez is absolutely having it away down the left, Navas totally over matched. Plays it in. Theo controls, shoots over.
Welbeck was through just before that, having the better of Otamendi.
GOAL! City back in front
Like I said, Arsenal completely dopey since equalising. Ozil gives the ball away in midfield, kicks it at Silva. Ball is played out to the right and, uh-oh, there's that man Aguero. Unmarked. You can guess the rest.
City now wake up, Arsenal go back to sleep. City hit the post!
The Emirates Cup seems to start earlier and earlier every year. What's the second game of the day?— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) April 2, 2017
Good old Arsenal - no wonder their fans get frustrated. Instant defensive shortcomings & Aguero restores City's lead.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) April 2, 2017
Arsenal truly are gutless— John Brewin (@JohnBrewinESPN) April 2, 2017
Only question really is why City, with this team out, eased off at 1-0. They looked like scoring at will and have just shown that again.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) April 2, 2017
GOAL! Arsenal equalise!
It's that man Theo Walcott. Ball comes in from the left, half cleared. Most of the City defence come out... but not Clichy. It's knocked back in, Theo Walcott reacts well, gets onto the ball. A messy, scrappy situation, but Theo has bundled it in.
Granit Xhaka has no self-control. A card magnet who brings very little to this Arsenal side.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 2, 2017
Sanchez loses the ball in a forest of City legs, Navas, Sterling and Silva the unlikely iron curtain. As Sanchez tries to get it back, Sterling sticks out a leg and brings him down. Sanchez wastes his freekick.
Xhaka slides a long way along the ground, catches Otamendi on the ankle. Booked.
Sanchez tries to bend the ball at goal from the left. Wide.
Excellent, neat passing move from Arsenal ends when Ozil backheels it to Sanchez, who is tackled by Fernandinho. Cries for a pen, but that was a brilliant tackle.
Promising run from Sterling comes to an end when he seems to run out of processing power and just sort of stands there confused before losing the ball.
It's all Arsenal at the moment. Doing well down the left. "It's not right for City at all down that side." They win a corner, Monreal rasps a shot over.
Half an opening for Arsenal, Ozil gets it in the box, Stones should have been tighter. Ozil spins and fires a weak effort.
Navas gallops forward down the right, plays it inside. Move breaks down.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
I don't think Arsenal have been spineless, on this occasion so far though. They've just been shaky. They are passing it around okay now and are getting into their tackles.
Arsenal: a load of balls.
Arsenal looking susceptible to balls through the middle. And from wide areas. And from deep. And shorter passes from midfield. And longer ba— David Hartrick (@DavidHartrick) April 2, 2017
Don't like seeing De Bruyne in a deep midfield role - he's too creative to play that far back - but his long flat ball led to Sane's goal.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 2, 2017
Arsenal fans restless. Coquelin flies into a wild tackle, Silva mostly skips over it, but that does not save Francis from a justified booking. Mocking Francis, they were, titter ye not. Poor old soul.
De Bruyne cracks one from the edge of the box, hits the post. Silva decent hit with the follow-up. The Arsenal are getting gubbed here.
Gary Neville on Mesut Ozil
"Around the grounds, he is being worked out. Yes he has talent. But there are more talented players who don't have the body language of him."
Navas booked for a shocker of a tackle.
Leroy Sané strikes early to open the scoring - it's 0-1 to Man City. The ball is hooked forward by Kevin DB, Sane runs onto hit and he has got the legs to whizz past Bellerin, takes it round the keeper and tucks it away. Lovely stuff!
Man City have their first sight of goal
Man City respond to the earlier Arsenal effort with their first shot of the game.
Lovely ball through for Sterling, he shoots and it is deflected... for a split second it looks like this might rebound in.
Up the other end, another deflected shot as Welbeck powers through and hits one.
Arsenal's full backs are getting stretched. Mind you, with Navas at right back, it's not a strong suit for City either.
Aguero is caught just offside. That was close.
City kick off. Good atmosphere. Early foul by City's Navas, on Sanchez. Arsenal drill it into the area, Caballero gathers.
missed the grab of the City team. I'll get back to you on that.
No side has scored more Premier League goals (30) away from home this season than Man City.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 2, 2017
Unwelcome guests. pic.twitter.com/SJpw1rbIBQ
Here's the Arsenal side
Lot of old pals act
in the tunnel before the game. If the Emirates has anything as earthy as a tunnel.
From north of the border
It's a tough school up there and no mistake.
Scott Sinclair – hat-trick hero and man of the match as Celtic win the league – left at Tynecastle as the team bus drives off without him— Anthony Brown⚽️ (@anthonyabrown) April 2, 2017
Should be a good game
Certainly it looks like City have come to attack. I make it three backs, Fernandinho, and then six almost entirely attacking players.
Here's another London team
Putting Arsenals' travails into some perspective, perhaps.
Supporters' Liaison Officer and Hackney garage owner Errol McKellar is performing assistant manager duties for Leyton Orient. The nadir?— Fred Nathan (@FreddieNathan) April 1, 2017
"I have seen some assists that and I am only a few behind Neymar and that is great to see. Pep has helped me a lot.
"I need to be the child I was when I was 15. Just enjoying my football."
"Liverpool is a team that likes to go forward"
begins Pep Guardiola in a long answer to a question that I did not quite follow. He seems to be saying that they are looking for a similar game to that which that they had against Klopp's side. He bats away a question about the League race. City all set with a very attacking line up.
Good luck to Fernandinho today, playing in two positions including the only defensive midfielder.— Football365 (@F365) April 2, 2017
Injuries for Arsenal
Wenger out handout
There's accompanying literature being handed out too. pic.twitter.com/UfvGCWJLQ8— James Olley (@JamesOlley) April 2, 2017
How long before we get a #WengerOut TV ad, party political broadcast style? "I'm Troopz, and I approve this message."— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) April 2, 2017
Another incredible XI from Guardiola. My guess...probably wildly wrong... pic.twitter.com/Y3pe1UNbiC— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 2, 2017
Jeremy Wilson on Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has reiterated the need for change this summer regardless of whether Arsene Wenger remains manager.
In a question and answer session this morning with fans, Gazidis underlined how the club are planning for significant change this summer both on and off the pitch in an attempt to finally challenge again for the Premier League.
Wenger wants to go on and has told the club that he is ready to “reinvent” himself and Arsenal do believe that the 67-year-old is capable of becoming what Gazidis has called a “catalyst for change”.
However, there is also an appreciation of the fan mood around the club and Gazidis again stressed that the final decision must be “mutual”. Although Wenger’s desire to stay on is clear, there is no clarity on when that decision will be made. Arsenal will never make a kneejerk call after one result but, equally, they clearly accept that agreement on extending Wenger’s contract cannot be reached amid both the current environment and recent run of results.
It all effectively leaves Wenger’s 21-year tenure at the club resting on results over the next two months. A top four finish and what would be an all-time record seventh FA Cup remain theoretically positive but, on current form, Arsenal are facing a fight to finish even in the top six. Since the end of January, their only wins have been against Burnley, Sutton and Lincoln.
Wenger is continuing to plan for the long-term and has been making plans to overhaul the squad if he stays.
Arsenal have also begun exploring candidates for a potential sporting director role. Dick Law has liaised closely with Wenger on player negotiations and contracts since 2009 and, while he would initially work with any appointment, it is understood that he is ready to step away from his current position in the longer-term.
The idea would also be to create a wider football operations role, with possible responsibilities stretching to shaping and fine-tuning the structures around sports science, medicine, scouting and recruitment, the academy and logistics. It all further points to Arsenal planning for the changes that will follow the eventual departure of Wenger, although sources have stressed that this process is about the long-term and not specifically linked to whether the Frenchman stays beyond this summer.
Arsenal fans protesting
Sorry. I just cannot take this seriously. Wah wah wah we haven't won the league. I've hired a van.
Impression can be that whole Arsenal fanbase against Kroenke & Wenger but in stadium previously just been small elements protesting— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) April 2, 2017
@RobHarris It's called apathy, which is much worse. People not bothering anymore. Numb.— Adi Meiri (@MeiriAdi) April 2, 2017
Earlier today I thought City would win this game very comfortably but now I've seen that team I don't know what to think.— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) April 2, 2017
Caballero, Clichy, Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Sane, Silva (c), Sterling, Navas, Aguero. Subs: Bravo, Kompany, Zabaleta, Nolito, Kolarov, Delph, Yaya Toure
The enduringly underwhelming Jesus Navas comes back into the side, Toure Yaya to the bench. Good to see dear old Vincent Kompany back in the squad.
Not even a place on the bench for Ramsey
Who is fit, as far as we know. Will try to find out more about that.
I see yer da's hired a van
There's now a team announcement via twitter official partner. It's horse favourite Hays
While we wait for the teams
What about this?
Celtic says Brendan Rodgers would be one of the top six teams in the Premiership— Mihir Bose (@mihirbose) April 2, 2017
Got a view on that? Or on Arsenal, Man City, anything you like, really. Email me email@example.com
Good afternoon! Happy Sunday
Tyers here, looking forward to bringing you all three thrills, spills and, in the case of Gooners fans, bellyaches as the Arsenal welcome Manchestoh City to their North London home.